The Transformations leading to the University of the Future

15 dicembre 2021. Il discorso del Presidente Resta a Expo Dubai.

Authorities, Dear colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen, 
it is an honor and a privilege to be here with you today, on this particular occasion.
Expo Dubai is a great showcase for our country: an amazing opportunity to forge partnerships and to look forward to the future.
So, thanks for contributing to this meeting and for joining CRUI, the Conference of Italian University Rectors.
Today, talking about the future is difficult, because of a situation that is still critical.
Nevertheless, we have the responsibility to look ahead and to foresee new challenges.

 
A responsibility we held towards our students, which is also a big opportunity to change.
 
But, let’s take a step back.
 
Since February 2020, when Italy was struck by Covid-19, as the first country in Europe, universities have shown to be resilient, solid and robust institutions.
 
The spread of the virus exposed Italian system to additional complexities. Luckily, it did not collapse. Italian universities quickly found a way to get back on track and to do even better, increasing admissions nationwide of 7.6% for the 2020/21 academic year.
With no other model to follow, we found solutions that have been later adopted by other countries.
Within a couple of weeks
we moved to distance learning for over one million and six hundred thousand students, from all over the country, in conditions that were not always good in terms of digital infrastructures.
 
Later on
we responded to lockdown and social distancing by insisting on the importance of physical presence as a central experience in education. In September 2021, our students were finally able to attend classes on campus. For this reason, the university system took part to the vaccination campaign and adopted severe security measures such as the “green pass”.
 
In the meanwhile
during these last twenty months of tries and errors, we have had an incredible occasion: that of exploring the potential of digital technologies and become more and more aware of their advantages and side effects. We have finally reached an equilibrium between physical presence and remote learning.
 
Today our concern is not how to face the emergency anymore, but rather how to take advantage from best practices, how to design and develop a long-lasting vision.
 
Tackling with the emergency first, and then gradually addressing the recovery phase, we clearly understood  that universities would never be the same again, that they would soon address great and rapid changes, that they had to reinforce international alliances.
 
Indeed, international alliances are the only way to address global context,
to face worldwide issues, such as:
the pervasiveness of digital technologies 
the impact of ecological transition
the speed of change in industrial organization
the globalization and de-globalization of the labor market
the need for new professions and competences
All this considered, society is forced to revise programs and strategies for the future.
The European Commission has clearly defined a vision with the Next Generation Eu Plan.
 
Italy plays an important role thanks to a recovery package that is worth more than 200 billion euros. The National Recovery and Resilience Plan is made of 6 pillars, based on ecological and digital transition.
 
Education and research is one of them,
with an investment of about 16 billion euros
and a plan for reforms aimed at making universities more modern, flexible and international.

In response to that, the Conference of Italian University Rectors has recently produced a Position Paper that sets a list of priorities and guidelines.
 
Let me mention a few of them:
first of all, interdisciplinarity.
Sharing knowledge and crossing boundaries between sciences and humanities is more and more necessary to meet the challenges of new professions.
 
In order to do so, innovation in teaching is essential. 
We need new tools and digital infrastructures.
We need new teaching and learning methods.
We need new contents, which means setting up training and experimental courses and making a closer bond between academia and companies.
 
But most of all, we need to foster internationalization.
Our capacity to increase the incoming and outgoing exchange of students from all over the world and, at the same time, to share the Italian model overseas are basic requirements to increase our attractiveness.
 
That’s why it is essential to guarantee equal opportunities and the right to education to cultivate talent. That is why it is vital to change the recruitment rules of professors and researchers to facilitate mobility
and make them more compliant with international procedures.
 
Also, and most of all, university means research.
 
It is for this reason that the National Recovery and Resilience Plan is asking us to work for the construction of research networks and innovation partnerships based on the cooperation between public institutions and private companies.
 
The first measures take into account:
 
ten extended partnerships dealing with cross-cutting issues:
from artificial intelligence to environmental risks, 
from food to space, 
from cultural heritage to quantum tech…
Just to mention a few of them.
 
Furthermore, they plan to result in the creation of:
five national centers dedicated to frontier research and key technologies, 
such as high-performance computing, agritech, RNA technology, sustainable mobility and bio-diversity. 
National centers are not only significant, 
but crucial to respond to the goals set by the European Community.
 
What’s more, these measures boost the growth of 
local ecosystems aimed to promote innovative entrepreneurship and startups, contributing to a positive social and economic impact. 
 
These are important transformations, leading to an enormous opportunity: that of making the Italian university system more competitive internationally,
 
That of enriching our tradition with a new vision of the future. Of fostering our creativity and culture. Of guiding our values towards the building up of global networks of collaboration.
 
This is our goal. 
This is what we are heading to.
This is why we are here today.
Thank you.
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